×

No. 1 Michigan State Spartans vs. No. 2 Kentucky Wildcats tonight's highlight of opening week of college men's basketball

Michigan State guard Cassius Winston brings the ball up court in an exhibition game against Albion last Tuesday in East Lansing. (AP photo)

By AARON BEARD
AP Basketball Writer
The nation’s top teams don’t have to wait long to find out how they measure up against some of the best competition.
Answers will come quickly for No. 1 Michigan State, No. 2 Kentucky, No. 3 Kansas and No. 4 Duke in the Champions Classic, the marquee event in college basketball’s opening week.
The Jayhawks and Blue Devils meet tonight in New York’s Madison Square Garden, followed by the Spartans and Wildcats in the 42nd meeting of the Top 25 poll’s top teams.
“I’m anxious to see where we are right now,” Kentucky coach John Calipari said.
Still, it’s nothing more than a starting point for teams that hope to be the last one standing after the Final Four in Atlanta come April.
“It’s great because if you think you’re better than you are, you usually get it knocked out of you,” Michigan State coach Tom Izzo said Monday.
Look no further than last year for an example.
Kentucky was No. 2 but fell to Duke in the Wildcats’ most lopsided loss under Calipari. Kansas beat Michigan State in the other game. Yet the Wildcats went as deep into the NCAA Tournament (regional final) as the Blue Devils, the Jayhawks fell in the opening weekend and the Spartans reached the Final Four by taking down Duke.
Now the Spartans are No. 1 in the preseason for the first time in program history behind preseason Associated Press All-American Cassius Winston.
Like Calipari, Kansas coach Bill Self said he would typically prefer to play a game or two before playing in this event.
“I like playing the game,” Self said. “I don’t think it’s the best situation to play this game because you don’t have a chance to scout or get a chance to play to strengths and weaknesses, or try to get matchups and things like that because you really don’t know yet what they do well and don’t do well.”
The game certainly has the attention of the NBA. Champions Classic media coordinator Charley Green estimated 60-70 NBA personnel will attend to watch the nation’s top four teams under one roof.
“That’s how it should be,” Duke sophomore point guard Tre Jones said. “That’s what the fans want.”
Some other things to know heading into the opening week of college basketball:
EARLY START
While Duke faces Kansas, the rest of the Atlantic Coast Conference is opening in unusual fashion: with a league game.
Fourteen teams open the ACC’s first 20-game schedule with a league matchup, ready-made programming for the first season with the ACC Network TV channel. Previously, two ACC teams last met in a season-opening conference matchup in December 1967, according to the league.
THE NEW KIDS
The nation’s No. 1-ranked recruiting class debuts this week for No. 14 Memphis.
Penny Hardaway’s Tigers host South Carolina State today in the program’s first game as an AP Top 25 team since March 2014.